As an economic geographer I am interested in the iterative relationship between markets, technology and space. My earlier research explored the impact of digital technology on the employment experiences and spatial dynamics of independent musicians in Toronto. This work demonstrated that tasks associated with independent music production are performed in a growing range of physical and virtual spaces and that this fragmentation individualizes musicians and intensifies employment risk. These findings nuance our understanding of creative labour, entrepreneurship and governmentality. The project also explored intra and inter-regional migration and the important specificities of place, labour markets and individual preferences. This focus revealed that some musicians are avoiding competition by relocating to Toronto's surrounding suburbs or other music scenes in Canada. It also demonstrated that some independent musicians are abandoning their ‘bohemian' identities for professional personas and strategic practices. For example, in response to competition and exclusionary networks, there is an apparent shift from ‘social' to ‘connectivity' networking which entails ‘getting help' online instead of ‘hanging out' in bars and cafes.
More recently, I have developed several new projects which complement and extend these themes. In one comparative study, for example, I examined how independent musicians and fashion designers in New York, Berlin, Stockholm and Toronto market and monetize their products and ‘stand out' in the saturated marketplace using the concept of ‘exclusivity'. While this project focussed on the experience of producers, I have also been considering how consumers find, evaluate and ultimately choose specific products from a growing range of ubiquitous alternatives. I am particularly interested in the actors (people, spaces, institutions, events, algorithms etc.) who help to make these choices, the interactions between these ‘curators' and consumers and the physical and virtual spaces where advice is created and distributed. Given the presence of iTunes and Amazon, this research also endeavours to tease out why consumers of digitized cultural products, such as music and books, are willing to pay a premium, in both time and money, to patronize bricks and mortar shops. Through interviews and observation it also seeks to identify the sources of value that make localized sites of curation and cultural consumption, such as record shops, attractive and resilient in an age of digital distribution and on-demand consumption.
In the next few years I plan to build on this research by conducting an original cross-industry comparison of music and publishing in London. This project will investigate whether publishing is repeating music's painful digital transition. In so doing it will consider whether actors within publishing are not only learning from the experiences of their music industry counterparts but benefiting from the innovative structures and strategies it pioneered during the ‘MP3 Crisis.'
Economy, Governance and Culture
Dr Brian J Hracs
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